Author Archives: mike.merchant

Jumping champs

In the Master volunteer classes I teach every year on entomology, I race through so many different kinds of insects that I fear I do all a disservice.  One group I always mention in passing are the different kinds of homopterous insects.  This group includes the “hopper” families: treehoppers, leafhoppers, planthoppers and froghoppers. These are all plant-sap feeding insects that produce honeydew.  One of the things I mention in class about some of these is that their droppings (excrement) are often so abundant that you can feel them… Read More →

It’s a “murder hornet”! Or is it?

If you’ve never heard of “murder hornets,” more accurately called Asian giant hornets, Vespa mandarinia, you’ve probably been living on the space station for the past month.  And at the risk of stirring up a hornet’s nest, I thought it worthwhile to remind us all June is the month of the cicada killer wasp.  This is another common large wasp likely to be mistaken for the Asian giant hornet haunting news feeds this spring. Actually, both Asian giant hornet workers and cicada killer wasps vary in size based… Read More →

Emerald ash borer in Denton

  When Denton urban forester Haywood Morgan moved to Texas from Milwaukee, Wisconsin six years ago he thought he was leaving the devastating emerald ash borer behind.  Instead the ash borer found him again. Morgan became reacquainted with EAB this month during a trip to look at some sick ash trees along a Denton, Texas street. After inspecting ash borer-like damage on the 11 year old ash, his experienced eye caught a glimpse of shiny green.  A quick grab and he had it–what appears to be the first… Read More →

Giant hornets genuinely frightening

The Asian giant hornet has recently been spotted close to the Canadian border in Washington state. Photo courtesy Washington State Department of Agriculture.   Last year’s quiet arrival of a foreign wasp known as the Asian giant hornet is no longer a secret outside of Washington state.  Within the past few days, all the major TV networks have broadcast stories of the arrival of the wasp to the Pacific Northwest.  Known to entomologists as Vespa mandarinia, it has been named by the press the ‘murder hornet’. It’s hard… Read More →

Kudzu bug in Texas

Last week Texas became the fourteenth state with verified populations of kudzu bug.  An alert county Extension agent, Kim Benton, reported kudzu bugs from a home garden in Rusk, TX, south of Tyler. The bugs were clustered on eggplant and other vegetables before being transplanted into the garden. The kudzu bug saga in the U.S. began in October 2009 when millions of small, pill-like bugs startled homeowners across nine counties in northeast Georgia. The never-before-seen insects covered the sides of homes by the thousands, and concerned citizens began… Read More →

Disinfectants are pesticides–so use safely!

What do “pest control” and public health campaigns against SARS Cov-2 have in common?  Both activities use pesticides.  In the eyes of the law, sanitizer and disinfectant products are considered pesticides.  And if you’re a little wary of using pesticides, you should exercise the same caution when choosing and using a disinfectant. Let’s start with some basics. The term ‘pesticide’ refers to any substance or mixture of substances used to prevent, destroy, repel or mitigate a pest.  All pesticides are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),… Read More →

A prickly situation

Prickly pear cactus has its detractors.  Long hated for its long spines with a bite, and its clusters of barbed spines (glochids) that are heck to remove, it has been cursed, hacked, burned and sprayed. But prickly pear (Opuntia spp.) is also used by a variety of  wildlife and cattle, and is prized as a part of the Mexican-American diet.  There is even a small industry devoted to rearing insects, called cochineal scale, that feed exclusively on prickly pear (these scales produce a vivid red dye, called cochineal… Read More →

This Land of Insects

Did you know that out of the 100,000 or so species of insects in the U.S., Texas is home to approximately 29,000 of them?  We live in a state that is gloriously full of six-legged creatures. From leafcutter ants to luna moths, Texas is a great place to see and learn about insects, spiders and many other arthropods. As I was going through my 2019 calendar I was reminded of the Podcast on Natural Dallas (P.O.N.D.) that I did last year with Katharine Gulyamova, with the Dallas Public… Read More →

Cleaning insect poop off trees

Never estimate how low this blog can go in the search for article ideas. After listening to some internet chatter today on the subject of cleaning black mold off of trees, I thought someone else might be interested in the dark side of insect poop. Feel free to close your browser now if I was wrong. Before anything else, let’s clear the air about insect poop.  Most insect poop is inconsequential, harmless and rarely noticed by the home gardener. The exception might be those caterpillars that leave poop… Read More →

Avoiding the “I-Got-the-Hotel-Bed-Bug Blues”

As the holiday season approaches and travel volume increases, the chance for traveler  encounters with blood-sucking bed bugs goes up. And while waking up with bed bugs in a hotel room is bad, waking up at home and finding that you’ve brought bed bugs home is even worse.  Bed bugs are one of the few insects that are adept at hitchhiking in personal belongings, so knowing how to minimize the risk of bringing unwanted guests home is an essential skill for the frequent traveler. Fortunately it’s relatively easy… Read More →